Harrison and Luther…
I've long enjoyed praying the Litany. Luther did too. The prayer has an amazing longevity in the church, having found its form by the 6th century (Gregory the Great regularized it). Luther removed a few un-evangelical aspects, but retained the prayer nearly in toto, even rendering it into German and proving an original chant tone. Click HERE for a nice overview of the history of the Litany.
Left to ourselves, bereft of texts as the foundation of our prayers, we are often left praying "Dear God, give me a mini-bike," as I was wont to pray as a 12 year old - and am prone to pray even today!!!!!! Texts of the scriptures (Lord's Prayer, Ten Commandments) and scriptural texts (Creed, Litany!) lay down God's thoughts as the foundation of prayer, the tarmac if you will, from which our meditations may gently or quickly rise, aided by the Holy Spirit. The fulsome petitions of the Litany take us out of ourselves, to pray for the church, pastors and teachers, our enemies, women with children, the poor, the imprisoned and much much more. And all for mercy, growing out of the great petitions of the blind, the lame and the ill who comes to Jesus in the New Testament, "Lord have mercy!" "Kyrie eleison!" The Lord loves to have mercy. The Lord came to have mercy. The Lord continues to have mercy.
You'll find the litany in any standard Lutheran hymnal worth it's salt. Pray it daily with me for Lent won't you?
Pastor Matthew Harrison
Luther had a deep appreciation for the Litany. Of course, he rejected the invocation of the saints that had become a part of it, and he wanted to have the Litany sung in the church rather than at processions, but as early as 1519 he expressed his approval of it.1 During the reforms in Wittenberg under Karlstadt, 1521/22, it seems to have fallen into disuse. But the national emergency created when the Turks threatened the faith and freedom of all Christian lands prompted Luther to revive it. In his On War Against the Turks, begun in October, 1528, he insisted on the importance of believing prayer. "This might help if at Matins, Vespers, or after the sermon, we had the Litany sung or read in the church, especially by the young folk."2 And shortly after, on February 13, 1529, he could report to Nicholas Hausmann, "We sing the Litany in church in Latin and in the vernacular; perhaps the music or melody of both versions will be published."3 The same year saw the fulfilment of this promise. One month later he sent the first print of the German Litany with music to Hausmann. The accompanying letter referred to the fact that the Latin Litany Corrected had not yet been published,4 but this too followed before the end of the summer.
Luther's Litanies with their appended collects are closely modeled after the Roman Litany of All Saints.5 Nevertheless, there are significant differences between them:
1. Luther omitted the invocations of the saints and the intercession for the pope and the departed.
2. Luther made the intercessions more specific than in the Roman form, as, e.g., in the petitions for faithful pastors, for the erring, for faithful laborers, etc.6
3. Luther simplified the music, especially for the responses.